How to Make a Grass Basket

By Eva Luther
St. Lewis, Labrador

All Photos by Eva Luther

grass-basket-0

The grass that we use for grass work in Labrador is called sea grass. This grass can be found along the road side but the best grass is found near the salt water.

grass-basket-3
Elymus mollis, E. arenarius, Ammophilia arenaria

This picture shows the seed head and the grass. Sea grass is also known as salt water grass, beach grass, water grass, sewing grass, lyme grass, basket grass, shoe grass, squaw grass, wild rye and ivik.

grass-basket-4

Although the grass can be picked and used when it is green it is usually harvested in the fall after a few frosts have changed the colors to straw, yellow, pinks and purples. You pluck the grass away from the stem. Some people prefer to cut it using scissors but I prefer to pluck the grass.

grass-basket-5

Another picture showing the nice pink color of grass that has been touched by frost. Rain and snow will make the grass moldy and have black spots.

grass-basket-6

This picture shows the beautiful array of colors of fall picked grass. Gather lots of grass in the fall, it will keep forever if stored in a cool dry place.

grass-basket-7

After you have gathered your grass place in on a nice surface to dry. I prefer an ironing board so air can get all around it. Move your grass around several times a day to make sure all the grass get dried, sometimes you may have to separate the strands of grass as they will curl when drying and take their neighbors with them.

grass-basket-8

This is the grass once it is dried, you can still see the colors.

grass-basket-9

Before you begin to sew, soak the grass in water for about 48 hours. If it isn’t soaked enough the grass will crack and break during sewing. If you soak more than you can use in a day, just wrap it in a towel, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. After it is frozen just take out as much as you can sew in a day and wrap in a dampened towel to keep moist.

The tools of the trade are: thimble, needle, scissors. This is all you need to start grasswork. Just add grass!

grass-basket-10

Prepare the grass for sewing by cutting off about an inch on the thickest part of the grass.

grass-basket-11

To prepare the grass for sewing you must first unfurl it to make it flat. You can see the center spine this way.

grass-basket-12

Use your needle to separate the two sides from the center spine. We use the sides pieces to sew with and the center spine is used to make and continue the coil.

grass-basket-13

Another way to separate the grass one side at a time.

grass-basket-14

To begin your basket, take 4 or 5 blades of grass and shred them with your needle to make smaller pieces of grass, then tie a knot in the middle.

grass-basket-15

Thread your needle and go through the middle of the knot you prepared, leaving a small bit of grass on the end.

Use your finger to keep the end of the grass in place as you sew. When you start to sew, use the end as part of your coil.

grass-basket-16

Using an over cast stitch, sew around and around your coil, making sure every now and then that it is indeed round.

The grass coil being formed.

grass-basket-17

When you shred your grass the middle spine is used to add to your coil to keep it uniform, or if you don’t have enough of the spine, you can shred grass into three pieces and use that. It is just “poked” into the coil to continue making your basket.

grass-basket-18

Start the second round by sewing into the top portion of the coil row below.

grass-basket-19

Grass coil, starting the third row.

grass-basket-20

Bottom of the grass basket.

You can still see the different colors of the grass. Anytime you have to leave the basket for any length of time, you can leave it to dry and soak it again before you start to continue sewing.

grass-basket-21

Beginning the sides of the basket.

The way the coil is handled decides the shape of the basket. If you hold it directly above the row below and continue in this way, the sides will be straight. If you hold it away from the center, it will get wider. If you hold it toward the center, it will get smaller.

grass-basket-22

This basket is almost finished.

When you have decided the basket is big enough, you cut the coil on a slant and continue with your overcasting until all the ends are sewn in, then take another couple of small stitches to end it, cut off your grass thread. Use a good pair of scissors to cut off any ends that are sticking out.

grass-basket-23

grass-basket-24

I carved a soap stone handle for this basket.

This picture shows the underside of the lid.

grass-basket-25

You have to make a separate grass coil and sew it to the bottom of the lid, this is very tedious to do and fitting is not always easy but worth it in the
end.

grass-basket-26

This is the finished little basket with the lid. It took a week to make and became a Christmas present for my sister.

grass-basket-27

This is a basket I made using the green sea grass. Embroidery thread was used to make a pattern. You could also use raffia or even dye the grass to get the color you want for your pattern. This one was a
Christmas present for my other sister.

Grasswork by other Labradorians

grass-basket-28
Made by Garmel Riche of Happy Valley, Labrador

grass-basket-29
Made by Deborah Atsatata

Notice the flat “handle” made of grass.

grass-basket-30
Made by Fanny Broomfield

Notice the lid made of all grass.

Grasswork Video

Visit our Heritage Videos page to see a grasswork demonstration by Labrador craft maker Garmel Rich.